Ever since Lance Tucker’s first solo show went up at the Bermuda Society of Arts at City Hall, people have asked ‘excuse me, are you the artist?’
“It happened last week in the grocery store,” Mr Tucker said. “I felt someone looking at me. I turned around and this lady asked me if I was the artist.”
It brings tears to the 51 year old’s eyes, because his journey towards being “the artist” has been a long, and painful one.
As a little child, he loved to draw and paint.
“My mother, Helene Tucker, used to encourage it,” he said. “She would set up little games where I had to run to the table and draw from the funny papers, and try to get it as close as I could get it. Then, throughout the years, I would draw pictures for friends in the neighbourhood.”
But then the neighbourhood bullies started picking on him, mercilessly.
“This guy used to chase me home on a scrambler,” he said. “I had to find different routes of getting home.”
Mr Tucker started drinking at nine years old.
“Once I found the road to alcohol, it helped to numb the pain,” he said. “I didn’t fear anyone. Once I started drinking, it was like I really did not care. I used to take alcohol to school in a Thermos. It would be diluted with soda. I could taste it, but you could not smell it.”
His family did not discover he had a problem until he was 16. From then on, he was in and out of different treatment programmes in Bermuda and abroad, for years.
“My art was an escape,” he said. “When I was not caught up in addiction I would draw my own cartoons, and put it underneath my mattress.”
When he was 23, doctors found he had bipolar disorder, a mental health problem characterised by severe mood, behaviour and energy swings. People with untreated bipolar disorder sometimes cycle between severe depression, and periods of high energy and elation. Drugs and alcohol can make symptoms worse.
Mr Tucker would often give away his finished art work to people in the neighbourhood, to avoid destroying it during a period of depression.
“That way, I knew it was safe,” he said.
His dream to be an artist crystallised 20 years ago in one of his darkest moments.
“I was in St Brendan’s (now Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute) because of the bipolar disorder,” he said. “I had tried to commit suicide. They had this programme where you can do art therapy. Around that time they decided to have a show at City Hall. All the patients could show their work.”
Because his hands were shaky, he made a collage by cutting up newspapers. He was amazed when his work was well received.
“In 2009, I came into recovery through almost dying from a drug overdose,” he said. “I said Lord, if you get me through this, I will never use again.”
He started going to addiction recovery meetings with the 12-step programme.
“I still wasn’t drawing, because in the back of my mind I thought I would eventually start drinking again,” he said. “It took me six years in recovery to realise that I could never drink alcohol again. I cried like a baby.”
Then, three years ago, a friend asked him to draw a gombey for his nephew, and offered to pay him for the drawing.
“If you don’t mind how long this takes, I’ll do it for you,” he said. “It took me a year to complete the painting.”
He had to fight a lot of self doubt during the process. Through it all, his mother was his support system.
“Sometimes drawing and painting gives my mind something to focus on,” he said, “but other times it can bring out anger, so I usually give my work to my mother to hold when I’m done with it. That way, if I go through an episode of depression, I don’t have anything to destroy. But it has been a while since I went through a depressive episode.”
Last year, he became a member of the BSoA for the first time.
“That was one goal realised,” he said. “And I was able to have a show. It blew my mind.”
Before exhibiting his work, Mr Tucker asked staff at the BSoA if he should talk about his addiction. They did not want to make it about his addiction; they wanted to make it about his art. But Mr Tucker felt it was important to be open about his past.
“I was never supposed to have this life, in my mind,” he said. “But God saw fit to keep me around to have this.”
He called his show ‘Unfinished’.
“I am the art,” he said. “ I picked the name for myself to say I am unfinished. God is still working on me.”
When the show opened earlier this month, he was astonished by the people who turned up, family and friends, and former classmates from his days at the Robert Crawford School.
“I felt so blessed,” he said. “It made me feel like I am worthy of my art.”
He was most proud of two large paintings he did of Native Americans, a man and a woman.
“The woman came later,” he said. “Native American was the first picture I did when I decided to have a show. I posted it on TikTok.”
It took him three days to do the work, using acrylic paint and Bermuda sand.
“One day I would wrack my mind about what I was going to do,” he said. “Then the next day I would do a little bit more and the next day a little bit more.”
When he drew in his younger days he would draw things right out of his head. But he said that because of his addiction, he can no longer do this.
“For some reason, when I sit down and draw something that I can imagine, it does not seem to work,” he said.
Now he uses reference material to make it happen.
Other than a few hours in an art night class, he is self-taught. He learns a lot from experimentation and watching TikTok videos.
He sold 17 pieces before Unfinished closed at the BSoA earlier this month.
“When I went to pick up the stuff that didn’t sell there was a gentleman there,” Mr Tucker said. “He said he was going to buy the Indian, but he wanted to buy it directly from me. I have not heard anything since. Then there was a lady who called. She said a Filipino friend of hers was going back home and wanted to take with him a piece of Bermuda art. Did I have anything? She went to City Hall and I was gone. So she ended up buying three paintings from me.”
He is grateful for the experience.
“The biggest thing was I always wanted to be recognised as a Bermuda artist,” he said. “In my heart, I am a Bermuda artist, but if nobody sees your work then you are not a Bermuda artist to anyone coming up.”
Now he is planning to enter several paintings into the BSoA members show which runs from August 27 to September 22.
“After that, I will take a little break,” he said.
He hopes to have another solo show next year.
In addition to painting, Mr Tucker is also doing his bit to help others going through difficult times.
In 2019, he was deeply moved when a 15-year student committed suicide.
“I got mad because people were saying the reason there was a lot of attention on her was because she was white,” he said. “That hurt me because the first thing they did not think about was mental health. I know what it is like to wake up in the morning and want to die. I have had a rope around my neck.”
So he formed a Seventh Day Adventist ministry called Walking in the Spirit.
“It is to help people like me who struggle with addiction, or people on the island who struggle with anything,” Mr Tucker said. “I formed this under a board picked by the church. I wanted to do something that the government is not doing.”